Crimson Dragon Review

Crimson DragonCrimson Dragon (Available exclusively on Xbox One)
ESRB Rating: T
Number of Players: 1 to 3 (Eventually*)
Genre: Action
Publisher: Microsoft Studios
Developer: Grounding Inc. & Land Ho!
Release Date: November 22nd, 2013

*Note: Crimson Dragon will receive a free multiplayer co-op patch at some point in the future, but it was not available while I played through the game for this review, and as such the final score does not reflect the patch.

Parent Talk: Crimson Dragon is rated T for teen because of violence and blood.  The game is in no way gory, or mature-themed.  Players take on the role of a dragon flyer who goes around taking out all kinds of bizarre creatures with laser-based weapons.

Plays Like: Have you ever played the Panzer Dragoon series?  If so you know what to expect, if not, you control a dragon that is constantly moving forward.  You can move the dragon all around the screen, but you don’t control how the dragon gets from point A to point B.  You also have full control over a reticle, and the objective is to make it through each level taking as little damage as possible all while attacking everything in sight.

Review Basis: Finished the game on “Classic” mode.

Panzer Dragoon was one of my favorite series on the SEGA Saturn.  The series featured on-rails action that allowed players to take to the skies on the back of a dragon.  Their objective was to clear the stage while dodging incoming attacks, and shooting everything on-screen.  The unique gameplay provided fantastic arcade action similar to classics like Space Harrier.  After the original trilogy wrapped up with the spectacularly awesome Panzer Dragoon Saga, the series faded away until SEGA resurrected the franchise with Panzer Dragoon: Orta on the original Xbox.  After that it was never heard from again.  Today, we have Grounding Inc. and Land Ho! to thank for this modern day reimagining of the series.  While not officially a Panzer Dragoon game, you wouldn’t be faulted for calling it Panzer Dragoon 5 as many of the creative forces behind the classic series were apart of Crimson Dragon’s development team.

Crimson Dragon1The Great:

Simple and fun elemental system that players will pick up in minutes.  Each dragon has one of three different elements to it, fire, light, and wind.  A fourth option is void, which technically isn’t an element.  Fire is stronger than wind, wind stronger than light, and light stronger than fire.  Void is neutral to all other elements.  Before you select a mission, you can look at the enemies you’ll be fighting, and see which elements they belong to.  This is extremely important because selecting the correct element rewards a 25% damage increase, however selecting the wrong element rewards the bonus to your enemies instead.  Thankfully dragons can be equipped with a secondary attack skill of any element, so this allows for some diversity.  Naturally there will be stages where there are lots of different elemental enemies, in which case having a void dragon comes in handy as while they may not get the 25% damage increase, they don’t have to worry about enemies getting the bonus either.  This system allows players to use one or two dragons as their primary dragons, and two others as back-up dragons.

Crimson Dragon2The Good:

+ Missions are broken down into a series of sections.  Some have three, while others have as many as five.  Each section lasts for a short period of time, and challenges you to perform a certain task.  Some have you attacking swarms of enemies, others collecting orbs, fighting a boss, or simply surviving an incoming assault.  Depending on how you perform during each section you’re awarded a grade, and if you perform well enough you’re given a credit bonus.  Credits are used to purchase new and more powerful dragons, food for your dragons, rejuvenation items, and more.

+ It’s also possible to purchase wingmen to help you on your journey.  These cost credits, but can make the difference between getting a D rank in each section or an A.  What’s unique is that wingmen are actually other players’ dragon data that have been taken from the cloud.  If you’re lucky you can find one for a somewhat affordable price that isn’t complete garbage.  Other times you won’t be so lucky and that’s where a true co-op mode would be extremely useful.  Thankfully one is incoming, but until that happens your success with wingmen is entirely luck-based.

+ Once missions are over you return to the main hub where you can access the store to purchase additional goodies as mentioned before, but you can also visit the Dragon’s Roost, where you can do a couple of very important things.  First off you can feed your dragons, which is how they learn additional skills, and also where you can grant them experience bonuses.  The more your dragons level-up, the stronger they become.  Each dragon maxes out at level 10, but can then be evolved into a stronger dragon, although its level reverts back to level one.  Evolving dragons is crucial to your success as they gain major stat upgrades, but the process requires credits and evolutionary items, which drop in different missions.  It’s also possible to change your dragon’s attribute from one element to another, although this can’t be reversed so it’s important to think it over before taking the plunge.

+ Given the elemental system, and the fact that your dragons can evolve, you might think there’s a lot of grinding required.  The truth is that you really don’t need to have all of your dragons maxed out.  In fact you could very well beat the game with only one or two, but it sure is easier with more.  What’s nice is that if you decide to go back to the previous levels to increase your grade score, the side effect is you’ll easily have enough items and credits to max out all of your dragons.  If that’s not for you, then the choice is yours, either you play through earlier levels to get the items you’re missing for an evolution, or continue on with the dragons you already have.

+ For $20 there’s a surprising amount of content here.  Not only is the game a good size, but you can return to previously completed missions in order to beat your scores, or try to climb through the ranks on the online leaderboards.  There are also a wealth of dragons you can purchase, and evolve, which will take a very long time to do.

+ While micro-transactions are a part of Crimson Dragon, they don’t feel forced.  Items in the shop can be purchased with credits or crystals, and crystals can be purchased with real world money.  The catch is that all new dragons are locked to your player level, and the only way to increase that is by playing the game.  Sure you can purchase other items, but those will all come in time with regular credits you earn by simply playing the game.

+ The Panzer Dragoon series was always known for its excellent soundtracks, and the same is true here.  Saori Kobayashi returns as the music composer for Crimson Dragon, after having done the soundtracks to both Panzer Dragoon: Orta and Panzer Dragoon Saga, both of which were spellbinding.  The soundtrack is sweeping, powerful, and majestic.

Crimson Dragon4The So-So:

+/- The story is interesting, but nothing to go on about.  When planet Draco was first colonized an outbreak of Crimsonscale virus broke out.  Only Seekers were immune, and able to communicate with the local dragons for some reason.  The Crimsonscale virus also enraged the local wildlife and now you’re trying to not only prevent further spread of the virus, but also find out where it’s coming from, and see if there’s any way to stop it.  Honestly, I stopped really caring about the story mid-way through.  I simply wanted to get back to the action, and I’m sure most will feel the same.

+/- The graphics are a real mixed bag.  Often the game looks like a first or second year Xbox 360 release, with flat textures, and low res polygon enemies.  Other times the environments are striking and varied.  Missing details, such as the way projected hologram communications don’t move, or a simple static picture acting as the hub make the game feel extremely dated.  Even the environments don’t feature a lot of life to them, which you’d expect to see from an Xbox One title.

Crimson Dragon3The Bad:

– Areas that aren’t on-rails are a real chore because both the movement and camera controls are mapped to the same analog stick.  Controlling the dragon in these stages is extremely annoying, and sadly there are quite a few of these areas as you start to progress towards the end of the game.

– The voice acting isn’t cheesy, but it’s acted without any emotion.  It’s odd because the dialogue is actually pretty good, but it comes across like the voice actors didn’t care whatsoever, and as a result you will likely skip 99% of all the spoken dialogue.

– Kinect voice commands work well, but are only used to replace button presses.  Why would I say “fall back” to my wingman when I can simply tap down on the d-pad?  It takes me longer to speak the words than it does to just tap a button.  The same can be said for most of the other Kinect features.

The Ugly:

The camera angles can be absolutely horrendous at times.  Far too often the camera will swoop and turn your dragon in a particular angle so that you can’t see incoming projectiles.  Other times you’ll be lining up your shots against a group of enemies, when the camera automatically pulls away from that group to make you look at another.  Why the camera wasn’t unlocked is beyond me.  It worked well in the older Panzer Dragoon games, and I’m sure it would have solved all the problems here too.

Crimson Dragon5The Lowdown:

Crimson Dragon has its fair share of problems, but it remains a fun and engaging experience.  Once the co-op patch is released I believe some genuine fun will be had here.  Core gameplay is tight, but the camera system leaves a lot to be desired, and those open areas should have been removed completely.  I’m really looking forward to the co-op patch because having three people take on some of these challenges will be an absolute blast.  Until then though, if you enjoyed the Panzer Dragoon series, and own an Xbox One, I’d say to give this one a shot.

Final Score: 6.9/10 

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